I haven’t always loved Ann Arbor — I don’t know if I love it right now. Its quintessential charm is lost upon me. But, there are things about it I have learned to love, most of all my late night walks across campus when the rest of the world is fast asleep. There is a certain beauty to walking around the buildings on campus when the air is crisp and cold. I listen to music on these walks, which gives me the pretentious feeling of walking in my own indie film. These silent spaces are the moments when I feel most alive.
But there is an Ann Arbor I loved that no longer exists. So now, when I go on these walks, I am walking in the shadow of what once was. Next to me are the memories of my Ann Arbor.
We often talk about grief as the uncontrollable disbelief of something gone, and we portray it as the tears that stain our faces. But I think Joan Didion was right when she wrote that when grief comes, it “is nothing like we expect it to be.” She says that grief is the tidal force that makes us reconcile with the axis of our being.
Saying goodbye to Rin is the tide of grief that has crashed upon the shores of my Ann Arbor. I know that she is no longer on the fourth floor of North Quad. I know that she is no longer on the other end of a phone call. I know that, for me, she now only exists in my Ann Arbor — the Ann Arbor that was.
Grief is the demand for attention, something that turns us on our sides, where North and South switch, a state of being where we are lost. It consumes our lives. Grief, is the momentary impossibility of forming a future, because the past has too tight a hold on our present.
I wrote Rin a letter before I left for Germany, while she was fast asleep next to me. I wrote in my big cursive letters, “I don’t know how it is that we lived next to each other for so many years, met at a random gathering for the French Club, and then ended up having to go to France to be friends. Whatever reason the universe delayed our beginning it doesn’t matter because we have now found each other.” Rin was my friend. Rin was my best friend in my Ann Arbor.
Seneca, the Roman philosopher once advised to really let the idea of a friendship sink in, in fact the word he used was ponder. “Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship.” However, the most important lesson Seneca leaves us with is, “but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul.”
Losing Rin, the one I had welcomed into such intimate spaces of my life, is my grief. Losing a friend is the hollowing of the heart, the misplacement of the being. Losing a friend is inevitable. We all we lose a beloved friend at one point or another, for any of a million reasons.
My grief is the slow realization that the key of my Ann Arbor now lies in the impossibility of a friendship that once was. It is knowing I will not hear her laughter. I will not feel annoyance at her persistent tardiness. It is knowing that my Ann Arbor is locked in the memories of what was. It is in this moment that I have begun my true mourning — for nothing can replace Rin. Nothing will come close to the beauty of shared memories, of trials endured together, of fights and reconciliations. My Ann Arbor sits idle in my mind.
I promised Rin to hold her well. I hoped that all the parts that weighed in her mind were proven light in my arms. I hoped that the love I held for her flowed into her soul. I hope she felt it when I was gone. I hope she feels it when she smells lavender. I hope she still feels it now: honest and imperfect.
I thank Rin for her unnerving ability to love, and daring to see the good in everyone. I thank Rin for the many nights she picked up the phone when I called from Germany, for the nights I didn’t have the courage to hang up so she would let me fall asleep on the phone. I thank her for giving me the space that allowed me to safely remain myself.
I hope Rin is out in the world living her truth. I hope we all can be a bit more like Rin. To embrace our capacity to love — hers was certainly powerful, warm, and rare.
My heart breaks daily as I walk the streets of Ann Arbor. My heart breaks daily at the memory of my Ann Arbor. I have resented her absence in my life more than I could have ever imagined. I will forever be grateful to Rin. But more than anything, I hope that despite the hurt I have caused she still holds the key to her Ann Arbor. That she can still feel the love that was.